National News

Tsunami Alert Was Merely a Test. Really.

Posted February 6, 2018 9:23 p.m. EST
Updated February 6, 2018 9:24 p.m. EST

A tsunami alert buzzed phones across multiple states Tuesday morning, but it was missing a critical piece of information: This was a test.

The message, issued by the National Weather Service as part of a monthly exercise, was passed along as a real warning by AccuWeather, a private weather company headquartered in State College, Pennsylvania.

AccuWeather blamed the weather service for the erroneous alert, accusing it of sending out a “miscoded” warning, but the government disputed that account Tuesday night.

“Our investigation into this routine monthly tsunami test message confirmed that it was coded as a test message,” the National Weather Service said in a statement. “We are working with private-sector companies to determine why some systems did not recognize the coding.”

The weather service said there were “widespread reports” of tsunami warnings across the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

In an earlier statement, AccuWeather said that while the word “TEST” did appear in the tsunami warning, associated code that is read by the company’s software indicated that the alert was real.

Despite using what it described as “sophisticated algorithms” to scan the government’s dispatches, AccuWeather said it relies on the coding so it can pass along such alerts as fast as possible.

“Tsunami warnings are especially time-sensitive given the fact that people might only have minutes to act and as such we handle them with the utmost concern and priority,” said Jonathan Porter, a vice president with the company.

Many people who shared the erroneous AccuWeather alerts posted screenshots from as far south as Texas to as far north as Maine.

The episode Tuesday was reminiscent of a much higher-profile mistake made just a few weeks ago. On Jan. 13, cellphones across Hawaii received a warning of a “ballistic missile” threat. A state emergency services worker was later blamed for the false alert.